Business lessons from IPL

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The Indian Premier League has provided fodder for news channels, tabloids, cricket pundits and even Account Planners & Advertising Gurus. Almost every aspect of the IPL has been dissected in media. Strategic thinkers have compared IPL with reality shows, media planners have waxed eloquent about why it is a success etc.

What interested me were comments on the success of under-rated teams like Rajasthan Royals, the leadership ability of captains like Shane Warne and the parallels thereof to business. A few things that strike me as valuable lessons for corporations and agencies alike:

Company culture: same-same or different?

Commentators have spoken about the beauty of team compositions in IPL, where sportsmen who were hitherto opponents (Saurav-Ricky Ponting) or former mates turning into opponents (Warne-Hayden, Kallis-Graeme Smith, Murali-Jayasuriya) made the tournament exciting. Teams have also thrown in newbies like Asnodkar & Abhishek Nayar with pros like Warne and Sachin. The obvious learning opportunity for the newcomers is tremendous. It also points to the merit of ‘diversity’ in a team.

Now, how often do companies look for ‘people like us’ when interviewing candidates? Very often –  almost always. A question like ‘will he fit into our culture?’ is foremost in the employer’s mind.  When taken to the extreme, it fosters a company or a team of ‘sameness’. An orthodox company will look for the same in its prospective employees. Sure, companies look for certain basics (quality of education, smartness quotient etc.) when hiring people. But are we afraid of hiring people who will be different from us? People who are considered to be mavericks typically find it tough to break in. In the agency business, it helps to have people with diverse experiences & tastes in a team. Of course, wearing the same shirt does not make a team. The challenge is to foster loyalty for the team despite the differences. The leadership plays a critical role in promoting the feeling that ‘every team member is unique, yet adds value’. As an aside, David Ogilvy said, “If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants’. Now that calls for confidence and some risk taking.

With IPL, the team composition is left to the owner of the team. But what you do with the team you have, makes all the difference.  Sure, test teams too bring in a diverse talents & personalities together. A sober Rahul Dravid or Kumble do play along with firebrands like Sreesanth. At the IPL, this has been amplified further.

Experience hai?

Another aspect that set me thinking is one of experience. Much has been said about how age does not matter in IPL. Ditto for experience. Not many of the players involved have had T20 experience – some adapt, some did not (like our Bengaluru Boys).  In agencies, it is customary to look for experience in similar categories. An FMCG client is sought to be manned with people who have FMCG experience, a telecom client with  telecom experience and so on.  Is it time to change that outlook? If the person has basic grasp of advertising & consumer behaviour does category experience matter? If the person is clear about his role and competent enough to perform, then shouldn’t some training take care of the rest? When it comes to specialist areas like digital, sure ‘category skills’ matter. It is like looking for a specialist wicket keeper – a bowler cannot fill in.


True to the theme of this blog, these are mere ramblings. As always, comments welcome.

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  1. Very good parellell between our everyday work and the IPL. Examples of your observations can be seen all around us. And why just the workplace? Why not in our own friend circle too? How many off us hang out with people who are differnt from us?

    Good piece!

  2. Good post! Good analysis and the articles that you have mentioned are just thought provoking and insightful. If a candidate is strong in his/her basics and willing to learn then experience matters the least. The trump card of IPL is adaptabilty. It is true with everything we see around… life, profession etc. The more you adapt to the situation the easier you march towards the destiny!

  3. Great stuff..
    being open to change is what makes u grow.. IN most cases i have seen that seniors are apprehensive about changing with times and therefore when the company actually wants to move forward , then it goes through a huge flux where a lot of seniors move out of system.. and the existing ones grapple to find there feet in the situation.. i guess as people we should be open to change as thats the only way of life and therefore it can automatically convert itself in workplace as well because i guess people is what builds a culture or makes a place..

    Also i guess a mix of people .. not categorically like u have mentioned of people looking at someone who fits into the already existing culture rather than adding value to it from an outsiders perspective makes big sense… While i was at David, Manish and Josy as seniors always spoke about conversation being the end to much more progressive thinking and growth in everyway.. and manish still maintains that.. reason why everybody was very different there but got their own values on the table and there was always newer and so many different things to choose from for the next step.. rather than already predicting a certain way of doing things..

    IPL has been a great case study.. and i just read in the papers the other day how many business schools in bombay are now adding IPL as a case study in their syllabi..

  4. Thanks Tanaya. Good point about ‘conversation’. Sometimes we all get caught up in formats & processes – then it becomes a matter of filling in the boxes.

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